Tell me if this sounds familiar: The plane has just touched down in a foreign country where most of its citizens can barely understand English. After acquiring a prepaid SIM card, the next step is to top up credits to make an urgent call to mom and pops.
After fiddling with the SIM slot, the menu comes up and is completely incomprehensible. But it’s still a four-hour train ride to the hotel and the call is really urgent.
What follows is a futile attempt to seek help from the locals (might as well be trying to communicate in an ancient Aztec tongue).
So, after heaving a sigh of defeat, in goes the home SIM card and, *poof*, a few more dollars go into the pockets of a big telco because roaming calls are expensive as hell.
But, the ordeal is far from over. The call quality sounds like Cthulhu, the great beast of the depths. So instead, it’s time to flip on the data function to send a Whatsapp message. Good thing the message went through, because next month’s bill just got slapped with a flat fee of 50 bucks (this actually happened to me) for a day’s usage of data roaming.
This sorrowful fate befalls many subscribers because telcos know they can jack up the prices as much as they want. Users who rely heavily on roaming calls/data usage are either business users on the company dime, rich cats, or desperate people — in other words, people who won’t hesitate to rack up high fees.
Indeed, this is a segment where all the major telcos get to reap bountiful revenue; but, now, the time is ripe for a disruption.
Singapore-based startup Interfone wants to ignite change in this vertical. It is issuing an open challenge to the big telcos with its product: the sim sticker, which has a chip on it.
At a size of 0.5mm, it is able to fit onto any Apple nano-sim card or Android micro-sim card. With it, all telco users will retain their home number while overseas so folks can make calls or send SMS messages easily; no swapping of SIM cards needed. Once the add-on has been detected by the app, users can switch between the “home” and “away” modes.
In a nutshell, Interfone becomes the users’ telco provider while they are overseas.
Users install the app and once it detects that the sticker has been properly conifgured, they can switch between the “Home” and “Away” modes. In the “Home” mode, users make calls and use data in their home country according to their post-paid or pre-paid rates.
When they are abroad, they have to activate the “Away” mode and purchase credits that can be converted into minutes or data And they are, of course, priced lower than roaming charges.
Users have to enable “Mobile Data and Data Roaming” feature on the phone to use mobile data in Interfone’s AWAY mode.
Most importantly, it offers full customisation, so the user only pays for what they use; no packaged bundles, etcetera. Making a call from Germany, for example, would cost an Interfone customer S$0.49 (US$0.37) per minute. 100 MB of data for 24 hours would cost S$10.00 (US$7.50)
Erik Rasmussen, CEO and co-founder of Interfone, says he conceived the idea while at Mayday Invest, a Denmark-based VC firm that became the lead investor for Interfone.
“Like many businessmen, I had to be constantly available to work and also yearned to be connected to my family while on trips. As a result, my phone bills were always colossal,” Rasmussen tells e27.
Mayday Invest, which became the lead investor for Interfone, was headed by the Co-founder of a leading telco services distributor, Dangaard Telecom. There, Rasmussen was able to pick up the know-how and connections in the telecom industry to turn Interfone into a reality.
Interfone first launched its SIM sticker to business users in Singapore (and it currently has over 500 users); the next countries in the rollout plan are Australia and New Zealand. It can be used in over 100 countries across the globe even in remote regions such as Central Asia.
As a virtual telecom provider, Interfone works by leveraging on existing infrastructure as all network operators offering roaming services.
“An Interfone SIM sticker user from Europe travelling to and using the Interfone SIM sticker in Singapore means additional business and revenue for the network operators in Singapore,” Rasmussen explains.
Additional features are in the pipeline including app-to-app call functionality similar to WhatsApp or Line. More countries will also be added to its coverage list.
Interfone has a crowdfunding campaign going on Indiegogo at the moment, it is aiming to raise US$25,000.
I know what you are thinking
While it is definitely more affordable than incurring roaming charges (at the moment), it may not be cheaper than buying a new prepaid SIM from the host country.
But, for visitors just in transit for a couple of hours in need to make a call, using Interfone is a more prudent option.
Tourists about to gallivant across Russia for a week may find S$10.00 (US$7.50) for 100 MB too expensive — especially when it costs S$20 (US$15) for 5 GB of data with the prepaid local telcos.
Responding to this point, Rasmussen says the product is still in its early days, but “moving forward Interfone should be able to offer even more attractive rates and options”.
“It is hard to compare Interfone solely on price with a local SIM solution as you have to factor in the many limitations of their packages, cost to purchase and potential inconvenience factors,” he says.
“For customers who take frequent vacations the one-time application, international coverage, ability to keep your number and, in many instances, cheaper calls and data roaming rates , the Interfone SIM sticker provides a real attractive alternative”.
This means companies that consistently conduct business overseas can leverage on Interfone to cut costs and keep track of employees’ mobile usage and spending abroad.
So next time mom asks, “I sound like a what? What’s a Cthulhu?” Respond with, “Nevermind mother, I fixed the problem”.
Image Credit: Interfone